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Ko - production in Busan
  • Director of VR Film NINE DAYS, Patrick KWON
  • by SONG Soon-jin /  May 08, 2018
  • “The most important thing is the commercial value”

    Actress SONG Yun-a is back on the silver screen after a long break. Surprisingly, her return project is a VR film. Patrick KWON’s thriller, Nine Days, was screened at Lotte Cinema’s “Special VR Screening Series” in February. It is a 28-minute long mid-length film about a war correspondent, PARK Seung-hee (SONG Yun-a) who gets abducted for 9 days on foreign land. Director Patrick KWON dreamed of making a VR film that would be screened at multiplexes, so he cast well-known actors like SONG Yun-a and HAN Sang-jin. He also used a variety of cinematic devices that can be combined with VR technologies. He strongly believes that VR movies will become a huge part of multiplexes one day.

    You debuted in VR film with Nine Days. Prior to this, you made the short films MIDNIGHT TAXI (2015) and Sign Hard (2013). What kind of process did you go through to direct Nine Days?
    At first, I made movie trailers. I was working and studying film at the same time when I made the short film, Sign Hard. After that, I got into CJ's 4DX contents team and started to direct more. The film I made for work, MIDNIGHT TAXI, was a short film that combines 4DX and Screen X technology. Nine Days is a project I planned and produced on my own after quitting my job.

    Nine Days is receiving a lot of attention as it is the first VR film aiming to get a nation-wide release. How did you come to plan this project?
    There are already a lot of VR content and films out there, but I wanted to make a VR film that was made for multiplexes. By that, I mean a VR film that the audience can watch in a theater with a 5.1 channel sound system. While considering multiplex theaters as our form of exhibition, I shot 30% of the film in 360 degrees, and 70% of it in 270 degrees. Unlike other VR films that use stationary frames, I tried to shoot dynamically by moving the camera. I also paid a lot of attention to the cinematography, and in creating a commercial story. Although it’s VR, I wanted to focus on telling a story.

    VR games have beautiful images and great stories, just like movies. However, the participant is able to interact with the character in games. In this sense, what is the charm only VR movies have?
    VR games focus on the interactive component, while the story the director wants to tell the audience is the key point for movies. They have different goals. The reason films use VR technology is to intensify the audience's sense of immersion. Nine Days tried to combine the audience’s viewing experience with the story. The audience is seated on fixed chairs and they must wear headsets to watch the film. In the movie, the abducted protagonist (SONG Yun-a) is also tied to a chair with a bandana covering her head. We did this in order for the audience to find the movie more relatable. 

    You must have seen the audience reaction after the release. Do you feel like your intentions were communicated properly?
    Not necessarily. Initially, I wanted the audience to turn their heads during the torture scene. Unlike 2D films, the VR movie audiences remain in the space even if they turn their heads. I wanted that to become a fearful element to them. However, when they saw cruel scenes, they tried to take off their headsets. If this happens, the audience can no longer follow the movie. That's why we thought about screening the movie in 2D on the front screen as well. Even if they feel uncomfortable in VR, they could continue to watch the movie. If VR films continue to be screened at multiplexes, I think this would be a good method to consider.

    After CGV announced their VR system, there were high expectations about the VR movie industry. What are some elements that are necessary for VR cinema to become more active?
    The most important thing is the commercial value. Commercial VR films and VR films that could be played at multiplexes need to be released. Cinemas are working hard to provide a different experience for the audience who also have their home theaters. I trust that VR will definitely end up in theaters. If that's the case, we need contents that aren't for just one person, but for 200 people at a time. If we get enough capital to make new contents, the industry will naturally take shape. This is also the reason why Nine Days was made. Cannes and Sundance film festivals already accept VR film screenings, so I figured multiplexes will accept them too and that's why I wanted to make something suitable for multiplexes. Now the issue is making the film that is commercial enough to receive admission fees from the audience. I'm also thinking about what elements are necessary.

    There must be something you wished to improve with the VR technology while shooting Nine Days.
    The biggest weakness of VR films is the headset. Some audiences find 3D glasses uncomfortable already, and VR headsets are much heavier compared to them. I hope the technology can improve enough to make these headsets as light as 3D glasses. Also, I wish the view angle could get wider, and for the resolution to improve as well. VR cameras also need to improve. While shooting, I felt that the cameras were limiting me when it came to taking different shots. If a camera could shoot 360 degrees at the same time, we would be able to capture cars, motorcycles, and other dynamic action scenes in their whole.

    Do you have any advice for those who want to shoot commercial VR films?
    I also thought that VR films should be in a specific genre such as horror. However, I realized that I was stuck inside a box after watching Gina KIM's Bloodless (2017). There are ways to direct VR films effectively, in a variety of genres. I believe we shouldn't limit VR films to horror and action. What you should first think about is if the story you want to tell is something you can express through VR.
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